Rogue Report – Lessons from the Sidelines


Wow, what a weekend! While most of you were battling for state supremacy last Saturday I was doing something much more fun – watching! To be fair, there’s little substitute for actually playing Magic, which I found out the hard way the last time I went to an event but didn’t play, instead choosing to judge. Not to diminish my judge experience, I’m glad I did it and I learned a lot, but it’s hard to sit on the sidelines and watch others compete. Judging showed me exactly how much I love playing this game, and I got a bit of the fire back. So why didn’t I play in the 2009s?

*queue flashback sequence somewhat based on actual events*

Me: I’ll have the curry chicken please. Yes, the same one we got last week, without the potatoes.

The waiter continues around the table, taking Gavin’s order next.

Me: Max, just give me the pen, you’re doing this all wrong. You forgot Sphinx of the Steel Wind.

Max: Yes.

Me: And Sharuum! I thought we were finally going to “Esper Charm targeting me” people! That’s the whole reason we started building this deck”¦

It’s Friday night and I’m trying to brew something up for Saturday, but Grandpa Max won’t have it.

Me: Zac, look at this list. What do you think?

Zac Hill takes the notebook.

Me (to Gavin): He even forgot Soul Manipulation!

Gavin: It’s been really good for me in testing. We should really be playing Soul Manipulation.

Zac: This deck looks like the nut terrible gas, la.

I think that’s bad.

Me: Oh give it back to me, what do you know? You’re wearing a fleece jacket for a shirt.

Zac: After all these years you’re the first person to ever notice.

Me (to Zaiem): What does your flow chart say to do when my card supplier decided to play Jund and doesn’t have two copies of the deck?

Zaiem (my card supplier): Play Jund!

Gavin: Check out this somebody texted me.

Hmm, Pyromancer’s Ascension, Howling Mine, Runeflare Trap“¦

Jon: No Jace?

Gavin: He says it beats Jund.

Zaiem: Everybody says they beat Jund! It’s the Faeries of the new Standard! Remember how many people said they beat Faeries?

Gavin: I’ve been beating it with Soul Stair Expedition.

Max: (Something grumpy)

Zaiem: He’s right.

Me: Should I even play tomorrow? I don’t have a job anymore, the tournament doesn’t mean anything, and how can I expect to succeed in a format I know nothing about?

And then, a brilliant idea.

Gavin: What if tomorrow, instead of playing, you and I did coverage? We get feature matches going that one of us covers, and the other one walks the floor? We can do quick hits, metagame reports, deck tech…

Zaiem: I’m in!

Gavin: Great! With Zaiem we could have two feature matches, and then we just need to pick somebody that drops (Gavin points to Max) to help us cover the Top 8.

Jon: Genius!

With a valid excuse to not play in the upcoming tournament we left Malay Satay hut smiling, ready for a brand new day.

I apologize to my actors for grossly misrepresenting them, and the two women present for not giving them any lines.

A Brand New Day

I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually warm to the idea that quickly. Gavin and Zaiem were on it right away, but now that meant I could probably steal Zaiem’s Jund deck and make a run for the championships. Still, even with the best deck in my hands I didn’t know the format any better. I went to bed a little unsure whether or not I wanted to get up early the next morning. I remembered judging and how much it made me miss actually playing. It was another memory that made me push on – the memory of my experience at Grand Prix: San Francisco. I had the opportunity to do a small amount of event coverage for Wizards, and it was a blast. I woke up feeling much better about the idea of doing coverage, and once I reached the venue I knew I had made the right choice. The energy in the room woke me up, and reporting the tournament to the world was exactly what I wanted to do.

As Gavin and I arrived at the venue (thanks for the ride Joe!) we ran into a slippery Zaiem. He was having a little trouble on the icy ground in sandals. Zaiem loves his sandals and wears them all (ALL) the time. When it snowed in Seattle, what was Zaiem doing? Picking his way across the slushy parking lot towards Games and Gizmos, ready to play in an FNM. Now here he is, skating across the icy asphalt in the shadow the Space Needle. Zaiem is one of the most rational people I know, except when it comes to sports and footwear. Apparently this is my day for making fun of what other people choose to wear. (Nice bracelet Joe – the bank called, they want their pen security cord back.)

The judges were very helpful throughout the whole day, beginning with giving us our own table and allowing us to pull away two matches each round for feature coverage. The judges would hand us the pairings moments before they were announced as being posted to pick two features. Then it was time to pull out the laptop (thanks Peter for letting me borrow yours!) and get reporting. The three of us rotated covering matches, walking the floor and gathering stories, and editing articles for posting. Things that were ready to be posted were sent to Zaiem who would attempt to post them. Unfortunately our Internet died out about halfway through the day, so we only got the first few rounds posted live.

None of it would have been possible without Zaiem Beg and Gavin Verhey. As I said before, the whole thing was Gavin’s idea in the first place. He found the perfect solution to my dilemma – I got to not play in the tournament without feeling lame. Magic isn’t supposed to feel like work or a job, and playing in tournaments you don’t really want to play in is just bad. Gavin was who I looked to for direction throughout the day, and he would point me where I needed to go. He even got me a smoothie!

Zaiem, on the other hand, was the engine. Zaiem would take our pieces from us as we finished them and magically they would be posted on the internet. In between covering his own matches and editing his own pieces he found time to find the Internet and do channelfireball behind-the-scenes stuff that I know nothing about. He even spent his entire Sunday editing and posting piles of information that didn’t get put up on Saturday – all this and he still finds time to edit our normal articles!

Also, a big thanks to all the people we interviewed, the players, the vendor, and anybody else that helped us throughout the day. (Andy “Sweet Candy” Wilson, I’m looking at you.)

The Other Side

Just like judging, I felt like the experience of doing coverage taught me more about actually playing the game. Watching a game of Magic and trying to transform it into something entertaining to read leads to me trying to interpret their intentions. Also, in order to speed up the process I often tried to predict the player’s next move and type it in beforehand. I found myself typing “So-and-so attacks with their creatures, knocking the-other-guy down to 7″ only for no attack to be made. Sometimes it seemed like a real mistake to me, but often I was in the wrong. For example, in the Green/White mirror match one player wouldn’t attack with their Emeria Angel and I found it very strange, only for the other player to use Knight of the Reliquary to find and create a Gargoyle Castle token. Every time this happened I felt better about my choice not to play in the tournament.

There were mistakes that kept popping up, and I’m surprised by how often they happen and that good players are still making them.

The most common mistake I saw was unnecessary displaying your intensions. This is a very common mistake and one that’s really easy to fix. The best example for this problem, and the first card that really made me aware of it, is Oblivion Ring. I was walking by a table when I heard a player say “Oblivion Ring targeting your .” It sounded strange to me because I knew that Oblivion Ring didn’t target until it came into play, so I looked at the game just in time to see the other player Cancel it.

You probably see the problem: the player didn’t need to declare their target until Oblivion Ring came into play, yet they declared it when casting the spell. Why give your opponent more information than they need, and especially such valuable information? It’s likely that the other player would have still used Cancel even if no target was declared initially, but that won’t always be the case. Imagine your opponent casts Oblivion Ring, and you decide you can afford to lose your Jace Belern because you’ve got another one in your hand. When the Oblivion Ring resolves, however, they instead remove your Borderpost, which ends up being even worse for you in the long run.

The place I kept seeing this issue on Saturday was with planeswalkers. Maybe players don’t know exactly how the rules work, but I saw some players do it that should know better. It was very common to hear “Blightning and redirect it to your planeswalker”. Sure, sometimes the player was tapped out and it was safe to use the shortcut, but many times players did it only to meet a counterspell. It’s not impossible that your opponent might even forget that Blightning can be redirected to planeswalkers, and may instead be too preoccupied with choosing what to discard to notice. Why give them more information than they need?

Apparently players used to be able to trick people with this back in the day. It wasn’t too uncommon to hear, “Persecute you naming green” only for the caster to change their choice to blue when Persecute actually resolved. The ruling on this issue has since been changed, and now the judges make you stick to your original intent, and saying “Persecute you naming green” is classified as using a shortcut.

I claim that even in times when “it doesn’t matter,” it actually does matter. Even if your opponent is tapped out, who’s to say they don’t have a free spell in their hand? Maybe you claim to know every free spell in the format so you can justify using the shortcut. Well I claim you should still make the safe play if your opponent doesn’t even have a hand. There are so many variables to track in a game, it’s easy to miss one. There could be a land with an ability you forgot about, or a morph that you’ve never seen before. You say your opponent has no hand and only access to basic lands, with no creatures in play, so you cast Biorhythms for the win. You could have made the safe play and just attacked with your single lethal creature, but what could he possibly do? That was easy! In response your opponent uses their innocent looking Terramorphic Expanse that you dismissed as harmless only to play a Panglacial Wurm! Now you can’t cast the removal spell in your hand, and you’re dead on your opponent’s attack.

But Jon, there is no Panglacial Wurm in Standard.

You don’t know that! Ok, so maybe you know Panglacial Wurm itself isn’t in Standard, but you don’t know that what the Panglacial Wurm represents isn’t in Standard. Even if you could name every card that exists in Standard and prove that your lazy play was 100% safe, doesn’t that take more brainpower than simply making the safe play? Who knows what weird things can happen, so it’s best to always make the safe, consistent play. Any other action is just being lazy, and lazy loses games.

Case in point: If you haven’t seen it already go check out the coverage, especially the semifinal match between Portland PTQ winner Martin Goldman-Kirst and eventual 2009 champion Joe Bono. For reference, here are the series of events I want to talk about that happened in the Jund against Turbofog matchup.

When Bono attacked, Martin says “I’m not even going to bother to block” and cast Safe Passage.

Except Bono had Unstable Footing with kicker, both stopping the Safe Passage prevention and in addition, dealing five damage, dropping him from 20. Martin went to block with his multiple Wall of Denials, but the head judge stepped in. The judge interpreted Martin’s casual comment “I’m not even going to bother to block” as a serious game action – Martin decided to declare no blockers. Martin protested, saying that he instead meant that he wasn’t going to declare blockers yet. Tony Mayer, the head judge, called a huddle of the judges. Martin explained how he was going to win the game if the call went his way and if he was allowed to block.

The judges came back and the ruling was upheld – Martin couldn’t block! Martin’s comment, however casual it seemed to him, was completely serious in the eyes of the judges. Martin accepted his fate – Bono’s attack connected and was lethal. Bono won the game!

It’s easy to dismiss Martin’s actions as a huge blunder that you yourself would never make, but I see players set themselves up for this all the time. It’s clear that Martin was just being lazy – normally he would have just declared blockers and then cast his spell. Except this time, for whatever reason, Martin got lazy and cast his spell at a different time than normal. The time-saving shortcut excuse doesn’t even work here because the top 8 matches were untimed. What gets me is that Martin even knew his actions were lazy and said so. “I’m not even going to bother blocking” he said, right before casting his spell. No matter which way you interpret this – that Martin really meant no blockers or that he was merely saying he was casting this before bothering to block – it was still completely lazy. The correct play could even be casting Safe Passage first, then blocking after seeing their response, but that’s clearly not what happened. What happened was pure laziness, and it just so happens that it hurt somebody for once on the public stage, but we all do it.

There were also a lot of players there that apparently haven’t read my article on why not to scoop. As I covered games players kept scooping when they didn’t need to. The usual process was drawing a card and then scooping when they know they didn’t draw their out. At least make your opponent find out you didn’t draw your out – don’t just tell them! The easiest way to lose a game is to scoop.

Let’s say it’s Zendikar Limited, you’re at 5 with no hand and your opponent has a 2/2 and a 3/3. You draw your card, see a basic land, and immediately scoop. Why tell your opponent you drew a blank? Why tell your opponent anything? It’s likely that your opponent will attack and kill you anyway, but at least make them do it. What if you draw your card, say go, and they are afraid you drew an Arrow Volley Trap? They might just attack you with one creature, giving you another draw step to find an answer. They will probably just attack and kill you anyway, but at least give them the chance to let you draw another card.

But Jon, obviously I’m not going to scoop if I can bluff Arrow Volley Trap.

My response is the same as before – you never know what you can bluff. I doubt you can tell me every card that exists in Zendikar Limited, and even if you can, why would you make yourself? Even if you know for certain that there isn’t a card in your deck that you can draw to win the game, at least make them think that you might have an out. You scooping tells them that you don’t have Day of Judgment. It’s much easier to stay in the game and make them kill you than go through every card in limited and prove to yourself that you have no outs to even bluff.

Carried Away

This wasn’t exactly the article I intended to write when I sat down, but I like where we ended up. Bottom line: stay in school.

Congratulations to Joe Bono for winning the tournament – it couldn’t have gone to a nicer guy. Also, not to slight its pilot in the least, but congratulations to Jund for winning the tournament. All day I heard people claim that a certain deck beats Jund and that Jund is highly overrated, but in the end, in a room full of “I beat Jund,” it still came out on top. I hope I can be like Jund one day, succeeding where all others said I would lose to Woolly Thoctar.

Thanks for reading,

Jonathon Loucks
Loucksj at gmail
Jonloucks on twitter
Zygonn on Magic Online


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